The Pro Football Hall of Fame Game signals the beginning of the NFL season. After waiting through the spring and the summer, football is back starting with this preseason opener. Despite it being the preseason, there is still enough to look forward to — even watching bad football is good sometimes.
NFL football in August can be rough to watch. Teams obviously don’t go at full speed, the starters hardly see the field, and coaches are trying to avoid showing all of their schemes. This can lead to mostly mundane Hall of Fame Games. Yet every once in a while we are treated to something special.
Let’s take a look at top five most memorable moments in the game’s 57-year history.
The 1980 matchup pitted the San Diego Chargers against the Green Bay Packers. San Diego was coming off a 12-4 season while the Packers had another losing season under Bart Starr.
The two teams couldn’t seem to get the ball moving for the first 55 and half minutes. However, neither would get the chance to secure the winning score. The game was canceled with 5:29 left due to lightning.
This is the first and only Hall of Fame Game to end 0-0. As it turns out, it wasn’t the only one to be cut short due to lightning. Decades later, the 2003 preseason kickoff between the Packers (again) and the Chiefs was called off early due to weather.
In an ironic twist, this 1980 game featured two teams that ranked in the top 10 in passing yards that regular season. The Packers finished eighth in the league while the Chargers were first in not only yards gained through the air but total offensive yards.
4. Kyle Orton leads a comeback on the last Monday night Hall of Fame Game in 2005
ABC originally broadcasted the game before 2006, when it then moved to NBC. Before the switch, the game was played on a Monday night from 1999-2005. The final Monday night matchup between the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears did not disappoint.
Miami went up, 17-7, with touchdown drives on either side of halftime. Chicago cut the lead down to four in the third but still had work to do. It was all up to rookie quarterback Kyle Orton to initiate this comeback. Things didn’t get off to a good start for Orton when he entered the game, though. Inside of his own 20, Orton threw a pass right to Jason Glenn and the linebacker took it to the house to give Miami a 24-13 lead.
The Bears quickly went down the field on the next drive, with Orton throwing a 43-yard touchdown. Then Chicago got a massive break with 3:31 left when Dolphins kicker Olindo Mare missed a 34-yard field-goal attempt.
With favorable field position, Chicago marched into Dolphins territory, and a rushing touchdown from Zack Abron gave the Bears the lead.
Miami almost stole this game back. Brock Berlin got the Dolphins to the Bears’ 15 with 51 seconds left. Chicago’s defense held firm in the waning seconds of the game, with Jerrell Pippens picking off Berlin on the very next play to seal the victory.
Watching Orton under center would become a familiar sight for Bears fans that year. He would become the starter for most of the season after Rex Grossman broke his ankle in their next preseason game. That season, Orton led Chicago to an 10-5 record as the starter and a playoff berth.
3. The Titans run an elaborate fake punt for a touchdown in 2009
Special teams usually doesn’t deliver the biggest highlight of a football game — especially during the preseason, when most plays don’t generate any excitement. There are exceptions, however.
In 2009, the Buffalo Bills and the Tennessee Titans met in the Hall of Fame Game. In an effort to honor the 50th season of the AFL, both teams wore throwback jerseys. This meant we got to see Jeff Fisher’s team trot out in bright blue uniforms with the Houston Oilers logo on their helmet, a really nice fit:
Early on in the first quarter, Tennessee’s offense found itself in a fourth-and-10 situation in Bills territory. The Titans decided to play safe and punt it. Or at least that’s what they wanted Buffalo to believe.
Before the ball was snapped, Titans safety Michael Griffin, who was on the line, moved back and stood in between the gunners and the punter.
Punter A.J. Trapasso received the snap right as Griffin was running behind him. All the Bills players fell for the fake, with Trapasso doing a behind-the-back move with the football. Only two Bills players stayed home on the fake, so Tennessee was easily able to block for Trapasso as he dashed toward the end zone. He cut inside at the 15 and scored on the 40-yard trick play.
There has only been one overtime game in the history of the Hall of Fame Game. It took place on Aug. 9, 1999 between the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys. This was a momentous occasion for the Browns, who were playing their first game as a new franchise after the relocation to Baltimore in 1996.
The Cowboys, who were led by quarterback Jason Garrett, started off strong and scored 17 points in the second quarter. They headed into halftime with a three-point lead. Cleveland tied up the game in the third and the two teams continued to battle. The Browns had a chance to win it in the final moments of regulation, but backup Danny Kight’s kick went sailing wide right.
In overtime, the Browns ended up winning thanks to starting kicker Phil Dawson’s 20-yard field goal. It was a nice relief for a sports city which had suffered a heartbreaking loss of their football team just a few years prior.
But as we all know, the joy would be short-lived as the Browns went 2-14 that season.
1. Field conditions forced the game to be canceled in 2016
The Hall of Fame Game has been played in all but three years since 1962. In 1966, the game wasn’t even scheduled, possibly due to the NFL-AFL merger. In 2011, there was no game due to the player lockout. But in 2016, it was called off for a much weirder reason.
The Colts and Packers were all set to play on Sunday, Aug. 7, but it had been raining the days prior to kickoff. It didn’t help the turf’s conditions that Tim McGraw had held a concert on that field two days before the game and the Hall of Fame induction had happened Saturday night.
This made the paint at the center of the field harder to dry. So the NFL decided to try to find a solution. Heaters were used to make it dry faster, and it melted the field turf. The field soon became a cement-like surface, causing player safety issues. Then someone applied a paint thinner which could apparently melt your skin off, turning it from a dangerous to a physically unplayable surface.
By this time, the league had no choice but to cancel. The fans at the stadium found out on social media while waiting for the game to kick off and it caused an uproar. The NFL eventually offered full refunds to anyone who bought a ticket, but the damage had been done.
The whole thing was one giant circus, a series of comical missteps which kept piling one on top of the other. The fact that game had to be canceled due to an error in fixing something as small as paint makes this the No. 1 moment in NFL Hall of Fame Game history.